The Indian urban middle class has a confused, contradictory and schizophrenic attitude towards the United States. Going by an opinion poll commissioned by Outlook magazine (March 6) among lower-middle class and higher strata in nine cities, 66 per cent believe that President George W Bush is a 'friend of India'. Yet, 50 per cent believe Washington is 'closer to Pakistan' than to India! (Only 30 per cent think the opposite is true.) Strangely, 49 per cent think this 'friend' hasn't done 'enough to help India' in fighting terrorism. But an even larger 55 per cent believe 'India can trust the US for support in times of need.'
As many as 72 per cent of respondents think the US is a global 'bully'. And a good 59 per cent think India has 'compromised on its foreign policy' by getting too close to America. And yet, 46 per cent 'love the US'. (Only 14 per cent 'hate' it.) Seventy four per cent think that India should 'link itself with the US' on trade and business issues, although their interests diverge on these.
The middle-class person's logic isn't consistent. Fifty one per cent approve of India's two pro-US votes against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency. But 64 per cent think India should 'ignore Washington's objection and pursue the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.' They obviously don't realise that India's anti-Iran votes have set back the pipeline's prospect.
A survey last June by the US-based Pew Research Centre confirms that India's middle-class is remarkably strongly inclined towards the US. As many as 71 per cent in this all-urban India sample have a favourable opinion of America -- the highest proportion among the 16 countries surveyed. Only 41 to 45 per cent in most Western European countries have such a favourable opinion, barring the UK (55 per cent). The percentage is 42 in China, and a miserable 23 in Pakistan.
It's a safe bet that poor people, who constitute a majority of India's population, are far more critical of Washington. India's upper crust is probably much more enamoured of the US than its middle class. This elite is now severely recasting and re-aligning our foreign policy in Washington's favour.
The Bush visit offers eloquent and irrefutable evidence for this. Most of the agreements the US President signed were negotiated in secrecy and without adequate discussion with the concerned ministries. Our policy-makers, starting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, demonstrated evangelical zeal in realigning India with the US while giving up even the pretence of independence.
It's as if they lived in a fantasy or make-believe world and become blind to the character of the US as a power in desperate search of a global Empire, and to Washington's disastrous role in spreading insecurity and instability in the world, including most volatile region, West Asia-North Africa, as well as our immediate neighbourhood.
This assessment is not based on knee-jerk anti-Americanism or mindless nostalgia for non-alignment. It derives from an analysis of the driving forces behind contemporary US foreign policy and actions. The US is today engaged in an aggressive project to reshape the world. Various statements of this orientation are available in the public domain, including the 'National Security Strategy of the US' and 'Nuclear Posture Review' of 2002, a total of 44 National Security Presidential Directives signed by Bush, 'Strategic Command' documents such as 'Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations', and reports of the National Intelligence Council, including 'Mapping the Global Future' (December 2004).
The US wants to establish 'full-spectrum' dominance in all strategic areas and prevent the emergence of a potential rival or alternative power-centre anywhere, including most importantly, Eurasia. It wants unfettered neoliberal or 'free-market' globalisation. To achieve this, the US must control strategic resources like oil and gas and reject any proposals for limiting consumption.
Washington is prepared, indeed eager, to beat back any challenge to its economic, political and military hegemony by waging, if necessary, preventive or pre-emptive wars -- an indefinitely 'long-war', as US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it. Washington won't brook any resistance to its designs.
The most articulate formulation of these designs is the Neoconservative manifesto, 'The Project for a New American Century' The Project seeks to indefinitely prolong the "unipolar moment" which arose with the Cold War's end, when the greatest state-level challenge to America collapsed. The primary means by which this is to be done shall be military -- not least because the US' military prowess exceeds that of any other power. Indeed, US defence spending, now $450 billion-plus, exceeds the military expenditures of the next 14 nations put together.
Under Bush, the Neocons have emerged as the most powerful group in command of US policy. It is impossible to delink their influence from specific US actions -- the terrible mess in Iraq after its occupation, or the rush to further develop weapons of mass destruction, the atrocities in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay, refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court treaty, or pushing an iniquitous agenda in the World Trade Organisation and other forums. It's impossible to understand the logic of these actions without reference to Washington's larger strategic goals.
To achieve these, the US must build a system of alliances which neutralises all rivals and dissenters and co-opts previously recalcitrant states -- be they 'Old Europe' (which temporarily defied the US on Iraq), or Russia and other former Communist States. Such alliances must contain or counter possible challenges which might arise from anywhere.
That is where formerly non-aligned India comes in. The US has been trying to recruit India into a 'partnership' -- among other things, to counter China. India's strategic location between West Asia and Southeast Asia, and her emergence as an economic power, place it in a special league. That's the fundamental rationale of the US offer last year to 'help India become a great power in the 21st century' -- the fountainhead of agreements like the India-US nuclear deal and defence cooperation framework of last year, and the Bush visit itself.
India has dutifully reciprocated America's overtures. Ashley Tellis, a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has appreciatively listed some of these, including India's enthusiastic support for Bush's Ballistic Missile Defence ('Star Wars') plans even before his closest strategic allies backed them; India's silence over the abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty; its offer of military bases for the US war in Afghanistan after 9/11 (something it never offered to the USSR despite the Treaty of Peace & Friendship); endorsement of the US position on climate change, including its latest avatar, the 'Asia-Pacific Partnership'; helping the US get rid of a Third World director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; and of course, the September and February votes against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
To these must be added the 30 India-US military exercises involving all three services, 50 high-level military conferences; $990 million worth of arms imports; issue of 1,320 licences for arms transfers; and close strategic relations with Israel at Washington's behest. India maintained a deafening silence on the 2002-2003 US campaign for war on Iraq -- right until the day before the invasion, when the Opposition forced a resolution through Parliament. Worse, in 2004, India came close to sending a whole division for Iraq's 'stabilisation'.
Bush's visit further consolidates this partnership. The agreements signed during it, while important, are much less significant than its overall thrust and character, which is strategic and comprehensive, covering civilian nuclear cooperation, economics, agriculture, space, scientific research, energy, nano-technology, the Container Security Initiative (which mandates intrusive checks on shipments for supposedly 'anti-terrorist' purposes), and not least, medical drug trials (using Indians as guinea-pigs).
Many of these agreements are downright unequal and one-sided. Some will tend to undermine multilateral arrangements like the Climate Change Convention. It's futile to rationalise them as being in India's 'enlightened national interest.' In a greatly asymmetrical relationship, the stronger partner always calls the shots, the weaker partner follows his agenda, on terms set by him.
All that India will have gained if the nuclear deal goes through and is ratified by the US Congress -- a far-from-certain prospect -- is acceptance and legitimisation for its weapons of mass destruction and second- or third-rate status as a US ally which acts as Washington's junior policeman in escorting 'high-value' US cargo to the Straits of Malacca and otherwise provides logistical support for US strategic operations. We must pause and ask if the cost involved -- a complete betrayal of the Gandhi-Nehru legacy of peace and abandonment of the UPA's promise to return to the global nuclear disarmament agenda and fight for a multipolar world order -- can ever be worth the price.
The question might be irrelevant for the worshippers of nuclear weapons and defenders of the 'right' to visit mass destruction upon unarmed civilians. But for us citizens, it matters. In the long run, morality and universal values relevant to making the world a better place cannot be divorced from worthy foreign or security policies. The India-US partnership runs against such values. Soon, we'll find that we cut off our nose to spite our face.